Building a new VM server Part 2: The Hypervisor

[sc:windows-category ]This is part 2, read here for part 1.

Updates from part 1

In part 1 I mentioned the issues I had with the mid tower case and that I had ordered a full tower case to replace it.  The case arrived this week and installing the motherboard fit in perfectly, the only issue with the new case is the power supply cables only JUST reach the connectors.  I picked up a couple of extenders to take care of the issue.

The case I order was the NZXT Whisper, a full tower with sound insulation as well.  The case is very nice, with lots of drive bays and easy access to everything.

VMWare or Hyper-V or Something Else?

I’ve used VMWare Server on my VM host servers for several years, however with the additional hardware and the apparent stagnation of the product, I’ve decided to take a look at a few alternatives:

  • VMWare ESXi
  • VirtualBox
  • Microsoft Hyper-V

VMWare ESXi

ESXi is the bare metal free hypervisor from VMWare. It’s big selling features for me are:

  • Minimal overhead for the host OS
  • Truly enterprise scale
  • No monthly patching cycle

The big draw back from my view is that my existing servers host my primary file shares and of course ESXi would not have that functionality. So in effect, going to ESXi would require me to build two additional VM’s, which seems to marginalize the benefits of ESXi for me.

It was close though, perhaps next time. Some other items I don’t like about ESXi:

  • Yet another user/password store
  • Web based admin as the default
  • The Windows client is a little wonk

VirtualBox

VirtualBox is Sun’s (now Oracle) free hypervisor which runs on both Linux and Windows. I pulled down the Windows version and was quite impressed. The Windows based tools are nice and its fully integrated in Windows.

Support for multiple CPU’s and RAM are much better than VMWare Server and installation was a breeze.

In fact it could very well be my new hypervisor, except for one, small item.

Oracle.

Their track record with open source has been what can only be described as disturbing.

Hyper-V

Hyper-V of course is part of Windows Server so installation is easy enough. The integration with Windows is as expected complete.

Moving to Hyper-V has one significant issue, converting the VMWare guest VM’s to Microsoft’s format. There is a tool to do this, but I’m not sure how well it will work or if I’ll experience any glitches.

When in comes right down to it, Hyper-V seems like the best solution so that’s what I’m going with.

Converting the VM’s

Of course, going with a new hypervisor requires converting the VM images to Microsoft’s format.  There is quite a bit of information kicking around on the internet about converting, however much of it is now outdated, based on Windows 2003 guest systems.

The first system I’ve moved over I have used VMDK to VHD Converter which can be found here.  The steps I’ve followed so far are:

  • Shutdown the old system
  • Copy across the vmdk files to the new system
  • Execute the converter on the vmdk files
  • Create a new VM in Hyper-V
  • Attach the converted vhd to an IDE controller (this is important, attaching to the SCSI controller will result in a boot failure, it doesn’t matter if the vmdk was attached to SCSI or IDE)
  • Start up the new VM
  • Logon to the VM
  • The Hyper-V tools will install automatically and you’ll need to do a reboot
  • Remove the VMWare tools and reboot again
  • The network card will have changed and defaulted back to a DHCP address, if you had a static address before, go in and update the network card config
  • At this point, the old network card is still configured in the system, so if you try and re-name the network connection it will fail with an error, to get around this, open a command prompt as administrator and run the following:
    • SET DEVMGR_SHOW_NONPRESENT_DEVICES=1
    • START DEVMGMT.MSC
  • This will load the device manager, select “Show hidden devices” under the view menu and then expand the network adapters item, the old VMWare adapter should be visible, right click and select uninstall.  You can now rename your network connection.
  • If you’ve moved to a different CPU or video card, you can remove those as well.

Once the VM was converted I didn’t encounter any issues after that.

Other VM Tools

While reading around the net on how to convert the VM’s between the hypervisors I found that Microsoft has a a product called System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) which automates the conversion of VM’s, among a host of other management tasks.  VMM is an enterprise calls management tool but I decided to give it a try.

After a couple of hiccups during the install of the tool, I found it didn’t support VMServer installs, just ESX.  There is a manual way to do the conversions with VMM, but that pretty much defeated the entire point of the VMM for me.

The other “issue” with VMM is that it’s really (and rightly so) directed at enterprises, it was just far too much for the few VM’s I run.  So in the end, I uninstalled it and will covert the rest of the VM with the above methodology.

Coming up next

The next step will be to do the physical swap between the old and new servers.  That will be the focus of the final part of this series.

Greg

Greg

Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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Greg

Greg

Greg is the head cat at JumbleCat, with over 20 years of experience in the computer field, he has done everything from programming to hardware solutions. You can contact Greg via the contact form on the main menu above.

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